Coffee shop entrepreneurs say yemen is not just a war.
The 35-year-old boss of a new yemeni coffee shop in dearborn, mich., never imagined he would enter the coffee business. Ibrahim Alhasbani was born in yemen and grew up on a coffee farm outside the capital, Sana ‘a.
“I have enough coffee in my life,” Mr. Alhasbani said. “But when I moved to the United States, the problem went back to my hometown, and I told myself that I had the opportunity to prove that yemeni coffee was really good, and that yemen was not just about violence and war.”
A few months ago, he opened Qahwah’s home in dearborn, a city with a high concentration of arabs and arab-americans (Qahwah means Arab coffee).
The first known shipment of coffee by the customer, Alhasbani, is said to have been shipped worldwide from the 15th-century Mokha port.
Yemen is known for its intense aromas of flowers and spices, and for me the cup is like a masala, with a large amount of cardamom and ginger, and a touch of cinnamon. He charges about $5 a can, in contrast to some companies that sell a pound of yemeni coffee for $250. He can do this because he is connected to his family’s business in his hometown.
“These beans are 100 percent from my farm,” Mr. Albany said, happily.
Today, he sees himself as a coffee entrepreneur and a member of the cultural ambassador. But that’s not what he’s looking for. After completing business studies at Sana ‘a university, he worked for yemenia airways, where his father spent his entire career. Bored with his desk life, he started working for Red Bull, an energy drinks company that had just entered yemen. Before long, he traveled in the Middle East and Europe, winning praise for his marketing savvy.
“I did a good job, and the yemeni people thought I was the founder of red bull,” he said, laughing.
With the money he earned, he and a business partner opened Amore, a coffee shop in Sana ‘a, to offer Italian coffee, such as cappuccino. He also launched two restaurants and plans to open more. But with tensions rising in yemen following the Arab spring of 2011, the plans were derailed.
“A bomb is near our house, my brother was in a coma for 30 days, he tried to escape from explosion, but he didn’t succeed, now he is blind,” Albany said, his voice slowly disappeared.
“Yes,” he said. “Idiot, lost man, what can we say?”
Even before the outbreak of civil war in yemen in 2015, yemen was one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2012, the aid group reported that 44% of the population was malnourished. Today, the conflict is between those loyal to yemen’s President abdallah al-abhadi and the houthi rebel movement. According to the United Nations, 18 million people in yemen now need humanitarian assistance, and more than 7,600 have been killed since the civil war began.
Worried about his future, Alhasbani decided to leave yemen in 2011. Through his work at red bull, he had a lot of contacts in the United States and visited New York City on a tourist visa. He extended his travel visa and soon fell in love with the American woman he married. He started working for budweiser, and after his unsuccessful marriage, Albany moved to dearborn, where he married a yemeni American woman.
“I like it, it’s a perfect combination of western and Arab cultures,” he said.
However, as President trump’s travel ban is aimed at countries such as yemen, his brother and mother are unable to visit. He had not seen his family in yemen in six years.
“I don’t like to talk about politics,” he said. Still, the topic is on the rise.
His main expenses were fixed – his rent, and the credit card debt that was created when he opened a cafe. These are fixed, predictable costs. But he worries about the cost of importing coffee from yemen.
His brother is in charge of family farms, but it is increasingly difficult to find reliable delivery services in the country, given the violence there. Once his coffee arrives at yemen’s port, his team loads as many beans as possible. A container can hold about 6 tons of coffee beans. It takes about 40 days to reach the United States and costs about $4,000. On the day of my visit, Alhasbani was frantically trying to figure out why his container was stuck in a U.S. port, and it was the price he paid.
“I don’t know what’s going on, maybe it’s going to increase security for yemeni goods,” he said.
It is difficult to verify his claim, or it may be that all imported goods have adopted an additional screening method. Still, he hopes he can bring his brother and his yemeni friends to the United States to help his new cafe. He also wants to set up a fund to help young yemeni children, so they are not attracted to extremist groups there. But he has another incentive to start his cafe – to introduce americans to yemeni coffee.
“Yemeni coffee is really good,” he said. “You only try once, you say, ‘better than pumpkin spice. ‘”